Russia Report: Government 'fails to defend UK democracy' as explosive report reveals Kremlin meddled in British politics
SECURITY services must drop an iron curtain down to protect British politics from Russian interference or face becoming a puppet of Vladimir Putin.
That’s the call facing prime minister Boris Johnson from political leaders and experts in Portsmouth after the release of an explosive report which unveiled the scale of the Kremlin’s meddling in UK affairs.
The damning study by the intelligence and security committee accused the government of having ‘actively avoided’ looking for Russian interference during the EU referendum in 2016.
MPs sitting on the committee, which oversees the shadowy work of Britain’s spies, claimed the government was ‘playing catch-up’, despite evidence of interference in the Scottish independence referendum.
Intelligence agencies and government departments were accused by the committee of treating the issue as a ‘hot potato’ with no-one getting a grip on the problem.
Downing Street insisted there was ‘no evidence’ of successful Russian meddling in the Brexit vote but the committee suggested that there had been no proper investigation.
MI5 provided just ‘six lines of text’ when asked whether there was secret intelligence on the issue of potential Russian meddling in the referendum.
Labour’s shadow armed forces minister Stephen Morgan was appalled by the findings and has blasted the government for ‘failing to protect’ Britain’s democracy.
‘The report decisively states that the government has failed in this regard by underestimating the security threat posed by Russia. What is more, they have then evidently sought to block the publication of their failure ahead of the 2019 general election, putting their party’s interests ahead of the countries,’ said the Portsmouth South MP, as he demanded the prime minister ‘take all measures to keep our nation safe and secure’.
The long-awaited 50-page document had been due out last year but was controversially postponed by Boris Johnson ahead of December’s election.
Committee members claimed Russian influence in the UK is now the ‘new normal’ after successive governments welcomed the rich oligarchs with open arms, giving some of Mr Putin's allies connections ‘at the highest levels’ to UK companies and political figures.
And it was claimed a number of peers in the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major firms linked to the Kremlin, sparking concerns such relationships could be exploited by Putin.
Dr Paul Flenley, senior research fellow in politics and international relations, at the University of Portsmouth, said he was troubled by the report.
‘I’m not surprised at the fact Russia have been trying to influence British democracy, we have known that for some time,’ he said. ‘It’s long been part of Russia’s defensive strategy going back to the Soviet periods, trying to divide their enemies and sow confusion.
‘But I had hoped that our government and security agencies were all aware of what was going on. What is shocking is that there doesn’t appear to have been a co-ordinated strategy of monitoring what was happening.
‘Why weren’t security agencies monitoring these Russian businessmen when they were hobnobbing at the House of Lords or government ministers? That is the really shocking bit of the whole report.’
The committee said: ‘It has been clear for some time that Russia under Putin has moved from potential partner to established threat, fundamentally unwilling to adhere to international law – the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were stark indicators of this.
‘We therefore question whether the government took its eye off the ball because of its focus on counter-terrorism: it was the opinion of the committee that until recently the government had badly under-estimated the response required to the Russian threat – and is still playing catch-up.’
Responding, a spokesman for Downing Street denied the claim it had ‘badly underestimated’ the threat from Russia.